Dictionary of Virginia Biography


Christiana Burdett Campbell (ca. 1723–25 March 1792), innkeeper, was the daughter of John Burdett, a Williamsburg innkeeper, and Mary Burdett. Her father died by 18 August 1746 and bequeathed her a share of his estate worth at least £300 sterling, including three slaves. Sometime after 21 September 1747 she married Ebenezer Campbell and presumably moved with him to Blandford, later part of Petersburg, where he was an apothecary. They had two daughters, one possibly born after the death of Ebenezer Campbell, whose estate was advertised for sale on 14 August 1752. In an odd act of remembrance, the younger daughter was named Ebenezer.

Christiana Campbell had returned to Williamsburg by 7 October 1753, when she had a slave baptized at Bruton Parish Church. She showed her continuing interest in converting and educating her slaves by sending some of them to the Bray School, which taught black children in Williamsburg between 1760 and 1774. Probably starting no later than 1755, when she was purchasing large quantities of beef and wheat, Campbell became one of the capital's most prominent tavern keepers, operating at no fewer than three successive locations. She specialized in offering what she described as "genteel Accommodations, and the very best Entertainment" to a clientele of gentlemen that included George Washington, who between 1761 and 1774 often lodged or dined at her establishments during his visits to Williamsburg. Campbell's signed receipts to Washington attest to her literacy at a time when many women lacked this attainment. Thomas Jefferson also dined regularly at her taverns between 1771 and 1777, but his acquaintance was slight enough that he gave her first name as Catherine when indexing his accounts.

By 18 November 1760 Campbell was renting a lot on the south side of Duke of Gloucester Street subsequently occupied by James Anderson, the prominent blacksmith and public armorer. Sometime between 25 June 1767 and 16 May 1771, and probably before October 1768, she became proprietor of what contemporary records called the Coffee House, close to the Capitol on the north side of Duke of Gloucester Street.

In an advertisement dated 3 October 1771 Campbell announced that she had moved just east of the Capitol to what is now Waller Street. There she opened her tavern in a building constructed in the mid-1750s and recently vacated by innkeeper Jane Vobe, who soon resumed her own operations at the King's Arms Tavern. Campbell stated that she would reserve rooms for gentlemen who had lodged with her before. Her one-story tavern, measuring about sixty feet by twenty-four feet with a cellar and a separate kitchen structure, had a public room large enough to serve as a ballroom for the local Masonic lodge. Campbell rented the buildings and the two lots on which they stood from the estate of Nathaniel Walthoe until 5 January 1774, when she finalized her 29 July 1773 purchase of the property at auction for £598 10s. current money. Walthoe himself, formerly her landlord at the Coffee House, had contributed to the purchase with a £200 bequest in appreciation of her integrity and virtue.

Williamsburg suffered an economic decline after Richmond became the new state capital in April 1780. Some tradespeople moved to the new seat of government, but Campbell stayed behind and evidently chose to retire. The only contemporary description of her came from Alexander Macaulay, to whom she denied service on 25 February 1783, stating that she had closed her tavern several years before. The disgruntled traveler portrayed Campbell as "a little old Woman, about four feet high; & equally thick, a little turn up Pug nose, a mouth screw'd up to one side; in short, nothing in any part of her appearance in the least inviting." Macaulay also said that her house had a "cold, poverty struck appearance," but her ownership that year of thirteen slaves and four cattle suggests that she had provided well for herself. Campbell unsuccessfully sought to auction her Williamsburg real estate on 12 March and 8 October 1787, but in the latter sale she had better luck disposing of her household furnishings. She evidently moved thereafter to Fredericksburg, where her younger daughter lived.

Christiana Burdett Campbell died on 25 March 1792 and was buried in the Masonic Cemetery at Fredericksburg with a fulsome epitaph attesting to her kindness and generosity. Her Waller Street tavern burned about 1859, but the opening by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation of the reconstructed Christiana Campbell's Tavern as a working restaurant on 16 April 1956 has made her name recognizable to generations of hungry tourists.


Sources Consulted:
Mary A. Stephenson and Patricia Gibbs, "Christiana Campbell's Tavern Historical Report" (1952 and 1975 typescript reports; 1990 microfiche ed.), Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CW), Williamsburg, Va.; some sources give first name as Christian; father's will in York Co. Wills and Inventories, 20:37–38; estate sales of father and husband advertised in Williamsburg Virginia Gazette, 4 Sept. 1746, 14 Aug. 1752; York Co. Judgments and Orders (1746–1752), 34; William Archer Rutherfoord Goodwin, ed., The Record of Bruton Parish Church, 2d ed. (1941), 155; John C. Van Horne, ed., Religious Philanthropy and Colonial Slavery: The American Correspondence of the Associates of Dr. Bray, 1717–1777 (1985), 241, 278; York Co. Deed Book, 6:309–311, 8:385–389; Williamsburg Virginia Gazette (Purdie and Dixon), 25 June 1767, 16 May, 3 Oct. 1771 (first quotation), 20 May 1773; two Campbell receipts to Washington at Morgan Library, New York, and a third, at CW, reproduced in Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington (1976–1979), 3:101; Walthoe's will in Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Taverner 240; William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., 11 (1903): 187–188 (second and third quotations), and 25 (1917): 152; Personal Property Tax Returns, Williamsburg, 1783, Record Group 48, and Mutual Assurance Society Declarations, no. 485 (1801), both in Library of Virginia; Richmond Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser, 22 Feb., 27 Sept. 1787; Mary Campbell Russell to Ebenezer "Ebe" Campbell Day, 13 Nov. 1787, Papers of Scott and Richards Mercantile Firm, Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.; Williamsburg Virginia Gazette, 13 Apr. 1956; death date and death in seventieth year on grave marker in Masonic Cemetery, Fredericksburg, quoted in Dora C. Jett, Minor Sketches of Major Folk and Where They Sleep: The Old Masonic Burying Ground, Fredericksburg, Virginia (1928), 24–25.


Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by J. Jefferson Looney.

How to cite this page:
J. Jefferson Looney,"Christiana Burdett Campbell (ca. 1723–1792)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Campbell_Christiana_Burdett, accessed [today's date]).


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